Past editorials I have written for FQ&S have focused on how the publication can help processors build and/or upgrade their food quality, safety, and sanitation programs. The mantra for doing this is simple: develop, document, implement, and maintain.
When developing protocols, the people doing the work need to understand the goals. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Who will do the work? How will it be documented? Once development is done, it is time to commit these thoughts to paper. What gets drafted should clearly describe what’s to be done and must be detailed enough so that those reading the protocol can clearly understand what is expected. Consider sharing draft procedures with non-technical staff, the rationale being that if the non-technical people can understand it, it should pass muster in actual practice.
Occasionally, things get lost in translation. For example, one concern when designing aircraft is to protect the canopy or windows from bird strikes. An outfit developed a procedure during which they would launch a chicken carcass at the windows and evaluate results. They were asked to share the procedure with another group, who reported no success. The chickens were shattering the canopies and often ended up embedded in the pilot’s seat. The group who developed the method responded as follows: “Thaw the chickens first.” Once they did this, testing moved forward. While it may be a silly example, it emphasizes the need for proper documentation and asking questions if something is unclear.
An essential element for implementation is education and training, i.e., making sure that those performing the work understand what they are doing and why. Implementation is also the time when procedures may be tweaked. The people who are being briefed on the protocols may have additional insights. If management has created an environment where communication flows in all directions, the opinions of line workers and others are valued and appreciated.
Maintenance is the final part of the equation. Once procedures are in place, it is imperative that they be adhered to. There are many different elements that make up maintenance, including record review, internal audits, and GMP checks. While this would seem to be easy, it is often found to be a root cause for problems—people simply get sloppy or try to take short cuts, or take a task for granted and something gets ignored.
Richard F. Stier